One of the things that may be new our Startup Weekend participants, even some of those who are entrepreneurial veterans, is the pace of the Friday night Pitch Fire session. All you have is 60 seconds, a mic, your voice and you passion.
Startup Weekend operations manager Adam Stelle and the good folk at Startup Weekend Indy provide a great explanation of the Pitch Fire:
Pitches on Friday night be in a “pitch-fire” format, which means you will have just 60 seconds to get the audience interested in your idea. You will have no slides or props – just a microphone and a smile. You won’t have time to go over features, so just focus on the core of the idea and make your enthusiasm contagious. Here is the format for pitches that we recommend:
- Who are you and what is your background? (5-10 Seconds)
- What is the problem that you product is solving? Or, begin with a story (10-20 Seconds)
- Explain the product and how it solves the problem (10-20 seconds)
- Who do you need on your team (a developer, marketing, designer?) (5-10 seconds)
- Finally, make up a name for your startup so the facilitator can give it a title
Voting & Forming Teams
After pitches, you will have more time to mingle. If you pitched an idea, this is your time to start recruiting others that are interested in your idea. If you did not pitch, or if you are having trouble finding others to join your team, use this time to seek out those that pitched other ideas that you found interesting.
Next, the crowd votes on their favorite pitches. This is a simply a way to encourage quick team forming. This is by no means an exclusive process and if you pitch an idea and it is not voted as one of the top ideas, you are more than welcome to work on it if you find some other people who want to work on the idea with you. From there we will form teams and these are the startup ideas that will be worked on over the weekend.
What if I don’t have an idea to pitch – can I still come to Startup Weekend?
Some people have dozens of ideas for businesses and products, others don’t really have any (or so they think… but we’ll get to that). But many times the “Idea Person” isn’t the “Get It Done Person”. Also, not every idea is a good idea. Someone on the team needs to be the person who codes out the prototype… who get’s out of the building and elicits feedback from potential customers… who figures out how much it really is going to cost to build, market and sell the product. That person can be you!
How do you find an idea to pitch? Easy… look around you! There are dozens of pain points people deal with every day… hundreds of inconveniences. Each of those “problems” is a potential business idea waiting to be launched. So, over the next several weeks, pay close attention to the world around you. What problem can you solve with a better… or faster… or cheaper solution?
What happens if my project doesn’t get voted to be worked on during Startup Weekend?
Let’s back up for a moment and explain how a pitch gets voted to be worked on during Startup Weekend. On Friday night, we will start with some interesting talks and an opportunity to break the ice with your fellow Weekenders. Then, we will move into the Pitch Fire session.
During Pitch Fire, anyone can pitch an idea to the crowd and not everyone has to pitch. Those who choose to pitch have 60 seconds to do so – no slides, no props – just you and your passion for the idea (we will post what makes a good pitch at a later date). Once everyone who wants to pitch has done so, the organizers will allow a big block of time for the crowd to mix and network to hear more about the ideas that were pitched. All participants will get three votes to use. They can use them all on one project or split them among several projects. As the networking session goes on, the organizers will begin eliminating those projects that are not receiving enough votes. Typically, by the end of the voting session, there will be 10-15 projects that will move into the weekend.
So, what if your project doesn’t get selected? First… don’t fret and don’t be discouraged!
Second, walk around and speak to your fellow attendees and find a project that interests you. Join a team where you can be excited by the idea being worked on and you know your skills can help the team be successful. Trust us, you’ll find one or two teams worth joining!
Lastly, keep pitching the idea! Find out why people weren’t interested. Was it the idea or the pitch that didn’t make the cut? Maybe you just didn’t get your message across clearly enough. Is there someone in the crowd that was torn between your project and another project that simply had to pick one? There has been more than one company that has been born out of a failed Startup Weekend pitch.
What if I am not a tech person or business person?
A Startup Weekend team needs all sorts of people to be successful. Personalities and skill sets come together during the weekend to compliment each other and get the project launched.
Maybe you’re the Developer who can blast out lines of code in their sleep? Or maybe you’re the Designer who can make fonts sing an aria with the stroke of a brush? How about the Business expert who can make Excel spreadsheet perform feats of wonder with the click of a mouse? Perhaps you are the Maker who can make MacGyver look like an amatuer just using a box of paperclips and a roll of duct tape. Any and all of these roles are useful to a Startup Weekend team!
Can I bring my current startup idea to Startup Weekend to get it further developed?
This gets treated on a case by case basis, but generally speaking, if the idea has only been marginally explored and developed, you can pitch it at startup weekend. However, if you have a beta version released or you are already making revenue on the product, then the answer is “No!”
The core purpose of Startup Weekend is to bring a new idea to life in a new company… NOT to get free consulting work out of people so you can move ahead with your idea. The best advice we can give is to check in with your Startup Weekend organizers. They can evaluate how far along you idea has been developed and if it can or should be pitched during the weekend. Also, if you do pitch the idea, make sure your team is aware of how far along in development it has come before the event. Honesty and openness is the best policy.
What if I pitch my idea and someone steals it? Can I get my team to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA)?
The standing practice of Startup Weekend is that NDA’s are not allowed at Startup Weekend events. There are a couple of basic pieces of logic that go behind that policy:
First, there is a vast canyon between idea and execution. Your initial idea is probably not going to survive its first contact with customers. In fact, you are probably going to make several iterations on that idea before you ever take it to market. And… there are a ton of things to get done before an idea gets to market. Many ideas die on the vine before ever seeing a storefront. If it were so easy to steal an idea from a 0ne-minute pitch, then maybe that idea isn’t all that novel to begin with.
Second, if you are that concerned about someone stealing your idea, you probably shouldn’t be sharing it. However, we’d bet that by sharing your idea at a Startup Weekend, you will get invaluable input that will help shape the final version of the product and that you will get a lot of help in getting that never ending to do list done. You might even find a cofounder or two who are as passionate about the idea as you are.
So, it is entirely up to you on how you share your idea at Startup Weekend, but there will be no NDA’s.
I want to expose my kids to entrepreneurship – can they attend Startup Weekend?
We have seen pre-teen and teenage kids at Startup Weekend. We’ve even see them pitch to the crowd and get their projects voted into the weekend. So, YES, please feel free to bring you kids to Startup Weekend as a means to learn about entrepreneurship.
With that said, please use some common sense in making this decision. We highly encourage a parent or guardian to attend with any child 16 years old or younger. For older teens, parents can send them alone at their discretion, but we expect them to act like adults and work hard like adults.
This is the second in a series of guest posts between now and SWPgh#6 by past participants and supporters here to share their experiences and insights about what it really means to participate in Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.
Nathaniel Eliason: 3 do’s and 7 don’ts of how to spend your 54 hours at Startup Weekend
After winning Startup Weekend #4 last fall, I decided to have a little tongue-in-cheek fun and pitch a gag company at SWPgh#5 called Fratboxes. Although Fratboxes was a joke, my pitch was meant to show that most teams don’t spend enough time on things that give them the highest chance of winning.
So here are seven things I’ve seen Startup Weekend teams lose the most time on, along with three things they should have put more time into. Don’t make the same mistakes!
Things to Avoid Wasting Time On
1. Social Media
Social media is a “vanity metric.” Having a lot of followers makes you feel good, but don’t make the mistake of using it as “proof” that you have a killer product.
If you don’t believe that it’s a bad indicator, go to sites like fiverr.com and see how you can easily buy thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook likes for cheap. This is how new companies suddenly have thousands of followers.
2. Video Testimonials
Some companies will go out and get recordings of people endorsing their idea. But a video endorsement (1) doesn’t equal sales, (2) takes up a lot of time from your presentation, and (3) everyone will think that your endorsements were either doctored or even coerced..
Instead, try to get quotes from influential entrepreneurs in the region who like your idea. Bonus points if they’re experienced in your space.
3. A Fully Functional Product
Remember, you only have 5 minutes to show the judges how great you are, and only part of that 5 minutes should be spent on the demo. It’s not necessary to have a perfectly working product since you can show an animation of what it will look like to give the judges an idea of what it will do. You can always keep working on it later, but for now the goal is to win.
At the same time, some sort of mock-up or prototype that the judges can see or hold goes a long way. The more senses of your audience that you engage, the more they’ll remember you.
4. The Name
Don’t be the team that gets nothing done Friday night because they’re bickering over finding the perfect name. It won’t make a difference during the presentation, and it will significantly cut into the time you have for the important things.
Part of being an entrepreneur is learning to accept things not being perfect the first time. You have to prioritize to make sure the most important things get done. If everything is equally important to you, nothing will get done.
5. Financial Projections
Remotely accurate financial projections for a brand-new startup are impossible. A “hockey stick” graph showing that you’re going to be worth 50 million by year five is a nice story, but it won’t be taken seriously and it wastes presentation time.
Instead of trying to make wild projections, just talk about how large the market is, and why you’re able to compete in it. Show the weaknesses of the competition, where you fit in, and why you’ll beat them.
6. Making a Live Demo
Please don’t don’t don’t make a live demo. Something will go wrong or break. I saw this happen at my first Startup Weekend and then again at the Rise of the Rest pitch competition in the spring. It’s heartbreaking to see, and you’ll end up spending half of your presentation trying to cover up the mistake.
Instead, just put together a video, some mockups, or some site designs, and show them in the slides. It’ll be perfectly sufficient, and you’ll be protected from anything going wrong.
7. Making a Perfect Website
A perfect landing page won’t win the weekend. Yes, you should make at least a landing page, but you can do that in less than an hour using WordPress or Unbounce. Remember: The judges won’t be looking deeply at your website, so don’t spend too much time perfecting every pixel! Depending on your product or idea, often it’s just enough to have something people can put their email addresses into at the end of the event if they’re interested.
What to Spend Time on Instead
1. The Presentation
The presentation is the No. 1 thing you should be spending time on if you want to win. You could have started the next Facebook, but if the judges don’t know what you did, they won’t pick you.
Make sure your presentation is well designed, easy to understand, well rehearsed, showcases the product, proves it’s a big opportunity, and does all of this while being fun and engaging. The judges should laugh at least once.
If you’re not sure what to include or what format to go with, Guy Kawasaki’s example investor pitch deck is a good place to start. You’ll want to liven it up a bit though.
Aside from a great opportunity to learn about startups, Startup Weekend is also one of the best networking opportunities in the Pittsburgh startup scene. Founders of local companies, angel investors, heads of organizations like AlphaLab and Thrill Mill, they’ll all be there and more than happy to chat and help you.
Don’t just go heads down the whole time and miss this opportunity! Odds are you’ll make some connections that will seriously accelerate your startup education. It could even be a good way to find a job if you don’t decide to keep working on your company after the weekend is over.
3. Validation & Sales
The best companies prove their ideas and even make some sales over the weekend. If you can show up to the presentation on Sunday and say “Not only do we have this great idea, but people have already paid us for it!” the judges will be blown away.
Your product isn’t ready yet? Sure it is. Get people to commit to buying it when it’s ready Kickstarter-style, or get them to pre-order it for a discount. Or do what I did with Fratboxes and put up a sales page, then figure out how to make the product once someone buys.
Last but Not Least …
Have fun! Startup Weekend is an thrilling and intense experience. You’ll make some awesome friends, build something cool, and even if you don’t win it will be a great time. Enjoy it.
Nathaniel Eliason won Startup Weekend #4 with his company Tailored Fit and pitched a satirical company FratBoxes at Startup Weekend #5. You can find more of his work on his personal blog, or by following him on Twitter.
We at Up Philadelphia recently had our most successful event ever, and I attribute a good portion of that to an increased participation from designers. As a designer myself, I was a participant at the previous event in October 2011 and instantly became hooked, evangelically telling every designer I could get near about what a fantastic opportunity it is. Even after pouring my heart out, quoting Fast Company articles about designer founders, and explaining how as a result of Startup Weekend I was given an amazing job opportunity that allowed me to leave my miserable corporate job of a decade, these designers weren’t rushing to sign up.
But why is that? Do most designers lack that entrepreneurial spirit? Do they fear they’re going to exhaust their creative gas tanks? Are they intimidated by the amount of work involved? Why is it so difficult to encourage designers to participate in what is actually a highly creative and inspiring event?
Thankfully, due to persistence and badgering, we had over 20 designers register for Philadelphia Startup Weekend 3.0, and it was obvious in the aesthetic quality of the work presented on Sunday evening. Participants included Sharon McMullen, Interactive Designer at Anthropologie, and Amy Reyes, Senior Graphic Designer at US Airways. This was their first Startup Weekend event.
“I signed up to step out of my comfort zone,” Amy says. “To shake things up, learn something new, and see how far I could push myself.” The idea of creating an app can sound scary to a designer. They might feel as if they need to know how to code or must have experience with app development. Not the case. Creating the brand, making interface mockups, and formatting the final presentation are all tasks that benefit from the help of a designer. Not to mention, it’s advantageous for any Startup Weekend team to have a member who can offer up a different perspective in regards to creative problem solving.
Because designers are scarce at Startup Weekend events, they are hot commodities. Every team wants one and values the skills he or she can bring to the table. Sharon explains, “They appreciate you! I don’t think I’ve ever received so much positive feedback and confidence in my choices and development of an identity. With such a positive atmosphere it pushes you to make it the best it can be and it’s so rewarding.” The other attendees understand that good design can make or break a product and having a designer on their team is like having a secret weapon. She also adds that she liked how everyone enters the room as equals. “I felt like I walked in with a clean slate and no one judged me either way. It was amazing! I got to prove myself with the work I did THAT DAY.”
Of course, building a startup in a weekend doesn’t come without its share of challenges. Designers typically like to take their time with projects, patiently waiting for creativity to strike, but as Amy realized, that’s not an option. “Perfectionism is a road block to momentum, and there’s not really any room (or time) for it. You have to manage your time, and you have to be fast. Period. That was hard.”
But in the end, it’s more than worth it. When asked if she’d participate again, Sharon responds, “HELL YES.” That pretty much says it all. She adds, “The rewards you get from taking a weekend away and designing for some amazing new companies is priceless.” Amy’s reaction was quite similar. “Yes. In a heartbeat.” It’s definitely addictive, especially for a designer that might be working in the corporate world where they work with the same brand every day. You leave Startup Weekend with an incredible sense of accomplishment. As a designer, it’s easy to fall into a staleness, where you aren’t challenging yourself or learning new skills. Startup Weekend is like a creativity boot camp that recharges your system. Amy says, “I feel like I can take anything on and have been running strong all week. It totally re-ignited my passion for what I do.”
In addition to leaving recharged, you might walk away with some great contacts and possible future opportunities as well. Sharon received eight freelance requests from the weekend. “I highly recommend going and staying late at the very last happy hour celebration. I made most of my connections there because people could pin you with your work. And the drinks didn’t harm either,” she shares.
Still on the fence? Here’s Amy’s take. “On one side of the fence is this amazing opportunity to totally reenergize your career, meet new people, step outside your comfort zone and make something wonderful. On the other side of the fence is the same weekend you had last weekend…which, I’m sure was awesome…but not THIS awesome.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
How many times have you heard someone say this? They tell you about an amazing idea that they have and you can see the possibilities. You start talking about it with them, just spitballing. You look at your watch and a few hours have passed and that initial idea has been shaped and molded into something entirely new and just as exciting.
But what happens next?
All too often, great and revolutionary ideas never come to fruition. There could be any number of reasons for this but often you’ll hear that life intervened or that they just had absolutely no knowledge or means to move the idea forward.
Well, this is what Startup Weekend is all about. It’s about providing a venue for people with ideas to explore the potential of their ideas in a vibrant and unselfishly collaborative environment. People who attend the weekend all share one thing in common – they love to explore new ideas and new possibilities.
And attendees come from all walks of life. Some are serial entrepreneurs with an established track record for success. Some just love the energy of the weekend and give freely of their time and expertise. Some are looking for a new project to pursue. Some just come with an idea, not knowing what to expect.
During the inaugural 2012 Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend, the winning team was headed up by a woman with a vision for making technology in the classroom more efficient and relevant. She just came with the idea. She was an educator who identified a problem and wanted to do something about it. She had no idea what to expect but she pitched her idea to the room on the first night of the weekend. Her idea lit the imaginative fires of a few software developers and business professionals, passionate about her idea and eager to explore its potential.
They worked tirelessly for the remainder of the weekend, collaborating smoothly and picking the brains of the coaches in attendance. By the end of the weekend, they had successfully built the proof of concept for an application that would allow for streamlined communication between teacher and student, facilitating more timely feedback on tests and homework assignments.
That woman with the idea was Rita Chesterton, co-founder of Skaffl, a startup regarded as one of the top education ventures in the country. Since winning Lehigh Valley Startup Weeknd, Skaffl has gone on to become a Ben Franklin Technology PArtners Company, a 2013 TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco Battlefield Contender, and joined the LearnLaunchX Winter 2014 Accelerator Program. (For more info on Skaffl, click HERE.)
Rita’s experience at Startup Weekend exemplifies the spirit of the event. It demonstrates just how important it is to present your ideas to the world with the hope of finding motivated people to travel with on a journey of discovery. Rita came into the weekend with an idea and left with a winning concept, dedicated team, and the support of a community behind her.
And it all started here. In the Lehigh Valley. At Startup Weekend.
With the words, “So I have this idea…”
What better way to learn how to win Global Startup Battle than by researching last year’s winners! Check them out, watch their videos, research their teams, and find out what made them rise to the top of the world!
***Reposted from www.combatveteranswithptsd.org/blog with author’s permission***
For those of you who don’t know, my passion for entrepreneurship was born at the inaugural Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend in 2012. It ignited a passion that still motivates me today. It motivated me to pursue social entrepreneurship and to found my nonprofit.
One of the things that I have noticed, though, is how few veterans I run into at these events – and that really confused me. According to the SBA, approximately 40% of returning veterans would prefer to start their own business or ‘not work for anyone but themselves’. Veterans who start businesses are twice as likely to grow a successful business when compared to those who have never served.
So why do so few veterans participate in Startup Weekend? I have my theories, but they’re not substantiated by any research and fact. Instead of focusing on why veterans don’t attend, I thought I’d present my top five reasons why our local veterans SHOULD attend.
So Here Goes…
1. Startup Weekend is a Great Way to Test Entrepreneurship Waters
2. The Positive Environment Helps Transitioning Veterans Connect with Like-Minded Professionals
3. Companies Are Starting to Recognize that Startup Weekend is a Treasure Trove of Hidden Talent
4. Veterans Provide Skills and Valuable Lessons Learned Stemming from Military Service
5. Veterans in Attendance Help to Break the Stigma Surrounding PTSD
So There You Have It…
Hello, everyone! Today is the first in a series of awe-inspiring guest posts between now and SWPgh#6. We have an all-star lineup of past participants and supporters here to share their experiences and insights about what it really means to participate in Startup Weekend Pittsburgh. Today, we’re proud to bring you Lee Ngo. So take it away, Lee.
— Christian Moreno, SWPgh#6 social media contributor
Lee Ngo: Winning takes back seat to community, creativity, innovation
I am addicted to Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.
Since I moved to Pittsburgh two years ago, I have competed once, volunteered three times, and I’m about to organize twice: first for SWPgh#6 on Nov. 21-23, and then for Pittsburgh’s first Startup Weekend Education in February. And yet …
… I have never won or even placed.
My first experience was the greatest experience of my life. I was a competitor on a well-rounded, savvy team working to improve academic performance — and we had our asses handed to us by apps that:
- help with gifting for your significant other,
- identify allergic items in a store,
- get the attention of college athletics programs.
I am jealous of the winners … for about a day.
Ultimately, it did not matter if we won or lost. In fact, our company still continues on, much to everyone’s surprise (even ours). And there are many other teams that have done well in spite of not winning or placing, but went on to do some interesting and fantastic stuff:
- Inktd: a platform for tattoo artists to book their clients in an orderly manner
- MaxMyTV: an integrated social media and home media tool
- MegaBits: a massive multiplayer online game that uses geolocation
- Nymbus: a way to integrate mobile technologies into the live event experience
Startup Weekend is a sprint. Entrepreneurship is a marathon.
Some ideas keep going, and others are done by the end of the competition. A few don’t even make it to the presentation round, but we do everything we can to encourage them to go through the journey. Why? Because it’s all about the journey.
You don’t have to be a rock-star coder, a heralded artist, or a hotshot salesperson. You just have to be open and willing to be inspired by something new. It helps to be fearless, and it helps even more to be friendly.
SWPgh is 100% volunteer driven. We are not motivated by personal gain, for if we were, we’d be doing something else. We love the rush of entrepreneurship. We are addicted to teamwork, creativity, innovation, and theatricality. Above all, we do it for the community.
I come back every year because it’s the most fun you’ll have in the entrepreneurial world of Pittsburgh.
Join us. Startup Weekend was created just for you.
Lee Ngo is a co-organizer of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh and lead organizer of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh. He is also the founder of Scholar Hero, which was conceived at SWPgh#2.
Let the countdown begin! It’s a little more than 3 weeks until our sixth Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, and we can’t wait to show you what’s in store.
Now maybe you’re a Startup Weekend newcomer, wondering if this event is for you and whether you should participate. Maybe you’re a battle-tested startup veteran, thinking it’s time to pitch your next great idea. Whoever you are, here’s what you need to know about SWPgh#6:
1 You’re guaranteed to meet and work with amazing people.
Startup Weekend attracts our community’s most passionate makers and doers. This isn’t just a happy-hour. By spending a weekend to create companies that solve real-world problems, you’ll build long-lasting relationships with your teammates, competitors, coaches, sponsors, volunteers, and attendees.
2 You’ll sharpen your skills and pick up new ones.
With a whole weekend dedicated to letting your creative juices flow, Startup Weekends are perfect opportunities to work on a new platform, try public speaking, add to your portfolio, hone vital teamwork skills, learn a new programming language, or just try something different.
3 You’ll get face time with community leaders, thinkers, and doers.
Kicking off SWPgh#6 will be keynote speaker Justin Mares, author of the book “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers.” And facilitating throughout the weekend, we’re thrilled to have Jon Rossi, a one-man Startup Weekend dynamo and the founder of mydealerservice.com. There will also be amazing hands-on coaches who will mentor your teams, and a host of sponsors including Google, Saul Ewing, AlphaLab, No Wait, The Hardware Store, C-Leveled, Pittsburgh Technology Council, and Wall-to-Wall Studios, with even more to come!
4 You’ll learn more in 54 hours than you thought possible.
Startup Weekends are all about learning through the act of creating. Don’t just listen to theory — build your own strategy, and test it as you go. You don’t need to have a startup idea to participate. Because at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, creating companies is just the tip of the iceberg. We make entrepreneurs.
5 Tickets will go fast.
SWPgh#6 will sell out before you know it. General registration is $99, with student tickets set at $49. Your ticket covers meals, snacks, access to exclusive resources from our sponsors, and of course, all the coffee you can drink. What are you waiting for?
Got questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.